The Serbian Public Diplomacy efforts

Rebranding of the nation

Although some internal factors of instability regarding the domestic political context with regard to Europeanization still exist and some conditions for acceptance of the application to the EU still have to be fulfilled, the results of promotion of the image of the Serbian State can already be seen as clearly positive

from Lisbon, PORTUGAL
* Article is a part of Master work in International Relations - cooperation and diplomacy

The Serbian Institute for Public Diplomacy (SIPDIS) which, based in Brussels, was created in 2005, currently focuses its attention on Serbia-EU relations, showing the importance of the establishment of good relations among these partners and setting clear the fact that it constitutes a Serbian priority foreign policy issue. According to the Public Relations Manager of SIPDIS in 2006, the recognition of the Serbian identity abroad can be presented on four different pillars: public affairs, economy, business (foreign investments and exports) and tourism, being culture also recognized as an important part.

In terms of integration in the international trade, Serbia showed interest to join WTO since 2005, although it is still waiting for the full membership to be accepted, what will occur after the completion of implementation of national legislation in accordance to the rules of WTO International Trade.

In what regards the so called European Integration, Serbia officially submitted its EU membership application in December 2009, month in which the Serbian citizens acquired the possibility of entering visa-free in the Schengen zone for a period of 90 days. Before 2009, Serbia and the EU had held conversations regarding the possible accession to the EU. One form of collaboration considered essential for the acceptance of Serbia's candidacy was the full cooperation with the Hague ICTY, particularly in what concerned the extradition of certain individuals for the purpose of adequate trial, namely military commanders such as Goran Hadžić and Ratko Mladić and public figures like Vojislav Šešelj and Radovan Karadžić, related to the war crimes in the 90's. This stage was recently completed with the capture of Goran Hadžić, an event considered in 2011 as the "Ticket for the EU" and a moment of stabilization of Serbia regarding EU. At the moment, as the acceptance of Serbia as an official EU candidate ended up not happening in December 2011, as first expected, due to the considered low improvement and progress of the Belgrade - Pristina talks regarding Kosovo issues, having the definitive acceptance been postponed and being now foreseen to occur around March 2012.

Regarding the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, it is important to be mentioned that Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 and that in the three years subsequent to this event there was no communication or establishing of relations between the Serbian authorities (Belgrade) and Kosovo (Pristina), having this silence only ceased in March 2011, with support of the EU. However, it is necessary to highlight that this dialogue did and does not include agreements or negotiations on the status of Kosovo itself, this is, considering independence or separation from Serbia, but only has the purpose of solving some key issues affecting the daily lives of the local population affected by this matter, as well as of reaching some compromising solutions. Successful results were seen on the acceptance of mutual university degrees, freedom of movement between the borders of Serbia and Kosovo - with the possibility of passage and recognition through the usage of ID and the lifting of mutual embargoes on trade resolutions achieved in the beginning of September 2011. Despite these agreements, bilateral negotiations stalled, once again, in late September 2011, due to occurrences at the borders where ethnic Serbs formed barricades to prevent Kosovo police and KFOR to control the border crossings with Serbia. The negotiations were reassumed in late November 2011.

Good relations with non-EU members

It must be said that, in addition to the establishment of good relations with the EU, Serbia has also invested in good relations with non-EU member countries, namely with Switzerland - with which it recently reaffirmed, in November 2011, the deepening of bilateral ties in economic sphere and cooperation between both states multilateral organizations.

The Republic of Serbia also has good diplomatic relations with a vast number of countries, as is visible by its extensive diplomatic network, having representations in 67 countries. This partly results as a legacy of Belgrade's and SRY's role in the formation of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) established in Belgrade back in 1961. Although the SRY was expelled from the NAM in 1992, Serbia holds the status of observer of the movement since 2003, having Belgrade hosted the 50th summit of this movement in September 2011. Still regarding International organizations, it is interesting to mention that Serbia presented its candidacy to the OSCE chairmanship, intention that, being supported by the OSCE presidency - Kazakhstan was recently accepted in February 2012, for the year of 2015. Besides this, Serbia applied for the UN General Assembly's Presidency - to be represented by Vuk Jeremić.

Another element that clearly reflects reconciliation with the past is the relationship of the newly declared Republic of Serbia (2006 - after separation of the State Union with Montenegro) with NATO, having Serbia become a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace Program since December 2006.

Also within the context of peace, two facts shall be highlighted. The first one regards the Serbian efforts in UN peacekeeping missions, sending units to Congo, Chad, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Cyprus and Lebanon, through which it seeks to renew its image, formerly associated to war and now associated to the promotion and maintenance of international peace. The second relevant note regards the President Boris Tadić which has been chosen in November 2011 to receive the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe (along with Souhayr Belhassen, representing the South). This award is annually given to two individuals who distinguished themselves for the commitment and promotion of human rights - in Tadić's case, for his work on the political reconciliation in the Region and for the efforts regarding European integration and maintenance of international justice, upon surrender of generals to the ICTY.

Internal affairs as difficulties

Despite all mentioned positive efforts of Serbia towards its integration in the international community, there are still some internal affairs in the domestic context which subsist and contribute to some stagnation or possible difficulty in the promotion of the image of Serbia abroad.

Some opposition parties to the current party in power (Democratic Party) still follow strong nationalist perspectives, being some against the European integration or even Anti-European, like the Radical Party of Serbia (Srpska Radikalna Stranka-SRS), which also sometimes holds radical speeches. The second largest opposition party in Serbia - the Progressive Party (Srpska Napredna Stranka -SNS) is more moderate and does not position itself against the entry of Serbia in the EU, although it encourages and simultaneously defends the importance of establishing good relations with Russia, China and other BRICS and believes that the extradition of individuals to the ICTY is a "humiliation" for the country. However, the SNS did not call for protests when Mladić's extradition occurred, as did the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).

One of the major problems which still remains is, as above seen, the incitement to protest for the national cause and even, in some cases, the incitement for violence - on the part of some internal movements, such as the nationalist group Obraz (Honour) and the Serbian National Movement (Srpski Narodni Pokret - SNP). The Belgrade Gay Parade demonstration was supposed to take part in October 2011, but turned out to be canceled due to safety reasons, given the occurrence of serious violence in the previous years and to the severe threats coming from some members of more radical movements, such as the above mentioned Obraz. This canceling of freedom of expression and manifestation seems to reflect the way in which some minority groups or movements still have the possibility to influence Serbian politics.

Aside from internal political affairs and movements, Serbia also has advantages and possibilities in promoting its image through sports and arts, being worldwide recognized in Water Polo, Basketball and Tennis (especially Djoković, actual no1 in ATP), in cinema and music by Emir Kusturica, in literature by Ivo Andrić and in music and festivals by the famous Guča trumpet festival and by Exit, which attracts thousands of people every year.

Another important tool at the Serbian disposal is its widespread Diaspora, since its members turn out to be the unofficial ambassadors of their country. Given its importance, the Serbian State even has a Ministry for Religion and Diaspora.

Positive results of promotion of the image of the Serbian State

Serbia's recent troubled past (as part of former SRY and later as FRY - until 2003) and its association to nationalism and war crimes urged for and justified the necessity to create policies to construct or restructure a public diplomacy strategy - a rebranding of the nation in the international community.

The Serbian public diplomacy has been directed to the integration and participation in international organizations, such as its application for WTO, its candidacy to the OSCE presidency, as well as its candidacy to the UN General Assembly Presidency by Vuk Jeremić; the strengthening of bilateral and unilateral relations with diverse States, the reconciliation with the past by signing the partnership for peace with NATO and the participation in various UN peacekeeping missions worldwide. Essential to mention is also the relevant role of the Serbian President, Boris Tadić, as an objective major figure in Serbia's image promotion, internationally recognized by representing dialogue, peace, military neutrality and integration - having been awarded the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe in 2011.

Besides the aforementioned, it is crucial to note that one of the main features, if not the resource or pillar for the promotion of the Serbian State is its relationship with the European Union. Serbia submitted its membership application to the EU in 2009, awaiting, due to the fulfillment of the requirements regarding its collaboration with the ICTY, the final approval of its membership status acceptance around March 2012.

Although some internal factors of instability regarding the domestic political context with regard to Europeanization still exist and some conditions for acceptance of the application to the EU still have to be fulfilled, the results of promotion of the image of the Serbian State can already be seen as clearly positive.

(Published: 25.02.2012.)

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